11 Types of Christmas Lights: Tips for a Brighter House

Updated October 21, 2019
Old Historic Home with christmas lights

The holiday season is illuminated by different types of Christmas lights that come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The bulb type, energy source, and design are all factors to consider before making your purchase. Armed with buying information, you're sure to twinkle, shine, and glow into the New Year.

Common Christmas Bulb Types

Both incandescent and LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs are used in Christmas lights. They each have pros and cons. Incandescent lights can get warm while LED lights run cool. LED lights have a cool glow while incandescent lights have a warm glow. You need to decide which look you prefer.

Incandescent Christmas Lighting

Incandescent bulbs are much brighter and cheaper than LED bulbs. In addition, there are more bulbs per light strand that creates a more intense light glow.

Do keep in mind, however, that incandescent bulbs can grow warm and, in some instances, even hot. This means the bulbs must be replaced more often and the threat of fire is greater.

LED Bulbs

LED lights can use up to 75 percent less energy. They reduce the risk of fire since they don't emit heat and are an especially good choice for live Christmas trees, wreaths, garlands and shrubbery. While you can purchase these in typical mini-lights styles, LED lights are also available in a wide variety of styles and novelty designs.

  • Christmas Central features an LED light set of 10 multi-color C9 lightbulbs that continuously change color. The bulbs are spaced 11 inches apart. The bulb colors are red, yellow, green, light orange, clear, and blue and feature 3 patterns of color.
  • 1000Bulbs.com carries mini wide-angle lights. They have a patented wide-angle design on a 24-foot string of 70 bulbs spaced four inches apart.
  • Home Depot presents color-changing icicle lights. This set of 12 icicle lights features 12 effects. If you need Christmas lights for your roof, these may provide the light show you seek.
Color Changing Icicle String Light Set
Color Changing Icicle String Light Set

While they may be energy saving and safer, LEDs may not produce the traditional "glow" provided by incandescent bulbs and may cost more to buy up-front.

Alternatives to Holiday Electric Lights

Not all lights need to be plugged into an outlet. You may decide that battery operated Christmas lights are the way to go.

Battery Operated Lights

Battery operated lights allow you to place lights any place you wish regardless of whether there's an outlet nearby. Illuminate fences, front yard tree, shrubbery, door wreath, roofline, garage doors, and windows with ease. They are also great for mantel decorations, centerpieces, staircases, and window swags.

  • Amazon features the RECESKY 50 LED warm white 19' string Christmas lights. This battery operated string offers three timer settings. These Christmas lights can be used indoors or outdoors with the waterproof battery case. Requires three AA batteries.

  • Christmas Central sells a 24-bulb white LED icicle light strand with 11" to 15" alternating drop lengths. Requires three AA batteries.

Novelty Christmas Lights

The lights most commonly associated with Christmas are those used to decorate Christmas trees and to add some cheer to your rooftop or porch. However, you can find plenty of novelty lights, like retro bulbs with pointed ends or globe-shapes and bubble lights.

Bubble Lights

Pick up a novelty strand with retro styling with old-fashioned bubble lights. Wayfair features 7' retro bubble light string with seven multi-colored bubble lights spaced one foot apart. Each bubble light 1 3/4" inches wide and 4.5" high. Each package comes with two strands. These retro bubble lights are also available on Amazon.

Multi-Color Retro Christmas Bubble Lights
Multi-Color Retro Christmas Bubble Lights

Snowman Lights

Christmas Central features a set of 20 LED snowman lights in pure white and blue. The snowmen are 2.5" high and the Christmas light string is 10.5' long.

Net Lights

Amazon features 200 LED warm-white, fair lights in a Christmas net lighting that's 9.8' x 6.6'. The net lighting offers eight flashing/glimmering modes of patterns, such as twinkling, waves, chasing, and more. If you plan to put your lights on bushes, shrubs, or other green plants, you want something that has green cords connecting the lights, such as the set below (available at Home Depot for just under $30),

Mini Net Lights
Mini Net Lights

Novelty Christmas Lights Beyond Strands

Not all lights come on strands or strings. You can us individual Christmas novelty lights or a small number on a strand with clip to attach to the Christmas tree branches.

Elf on the Shelf Bubble Night Light

The Elf on the Shelf revival combines another all-time favorite, the bubble light to make a perfect nostalgic Elf on the Shelf night light ideal for tiny tots. They are sold by the case of six and plug into a regular electrical outlet.

Elf on Shelf Bubble Night Light
Elf on Shelf Bubble Night Light

Multi-Colored Light Sphere

Novelty Lights, Inc. presents multi-colored spheres with 50 (6" diameter), 100 (7.5" diameter), and 150 (10" diameter) bulbs. Hang them from the ceiling for holiday party decorations or from tree branches outside.

LED Starlight Sphere
LED Starlight Sphere

Christmas Tree Shaped Novelty Lights

Christmas Central offers four multi-colored LED Christmas tree light with clear covers. The green wire is 3.35' long with the four trees measuring 4" high x 2" wide.

RGB Christmas Light Show

Light O Rama offers the 50 Watt Cosmic Color Flood that plugs into the Light O Rama standard data network. You can produce an amazing light show complete with Christmas music to wow your neighbors! Similar ones are available at Amazon from Ustellar (around $50).

Color Changing Floodlight with Remote Control
Color Changing Floodlight with Remote Control

Special Outdoor Lights

While many outdoor lights are electric outlet styles, battery operated, and solar powered meant for adding to porches, trees, and roofs, you can find several other special lights meant for outdoor use.

Lawn Ornament Lights

You may also find some great lawn ornaments, such as sleighs, gift packages, and figurines that are outlined with lights. For example, you'll find a PVC vine reindeer at Kmart. There are also all types of computerized animated light displays that you can use along with Christmas music for your outdoor Christmas design.

Crystal Standing Deer with 100 Clear Mini Lights
Crystal Standing Deer with 100 Clear Mini Lights

Features Help Determine Quality

There are other features you should consider when selecting different types of Christmas lights. Some of these include:

  • Number of bulbs: The package will indicate the number of bulbs on a string of lights. A strand with 50 bulbs will put out less illumination and cover less area than a string of 200 lights.
  • Strand length: Most strings or ropes of lights will indicate the length. This is important because it tells you how much area you can plan to cover with your lights.
  • Plug style: If you only plan to use a single strand of lights, it may not matter what kind of plug your lights have. However, if you plan to attach several strings of lights together, look for the "end-to-end" style. These allow you to connect several strings of lights together one after another.
  • Solid or blinking: Many a holiday argument has started over this critical lighting issue. While some people like their Christmas lights to glow constantly, others prefer the blinking variety.
  • Unusual lights: Not a traditionalist? Try a fiber optic Christmas light decoration, a neon light ornament to hang in your window, or a length of rope lights to shine on your NOEL. Also, consider lit bead strings, twinkling spheres, and lighted Christmas garlands.
  • Strand construction: Many light strands are constructed with serial wiring. In these, if one bulb goes out, the whole string is dark. On others, a burned-out bulb will take a small section of the strand with it. However, the best quality Christmas light sets do not allow a defective bulb to affect any others on the string; in these, the only bulb that goes out is the bad one.

Buying Discounted Lights

There are many opportunities to find great deals on Christmas lights. Shop known discount outlets, such as Big Lots and Overstock, where the inventory changes often. Many reputable stores and websites have pre-season and after season sales that you can take advantage of; just make sure that the lights are UL standard to avoid any possible substandard products, as well as read any reviews left about the product by previous customers.

11 Types of Christmas Lights: Tips for a Brighter House